CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) - NASA has reviewed 10 years of space flights and found no evidence to back up allegations that astronauts boarded a space shuttle and a Russian Soyuz spacecraft drunk, the U.S. space agency’s boss said on Wednesday.
The agency was investigating every flight involving shuttles, the Soyuz and the T-38 trainer jets flown by astronauts, NASA Administrator Michael Griffin told reporters.
“Right now, we’ve gone back 10 years and we can’t even find where it would be a possibility there was crew under the influence on either a Soyuz or a shuttle,” he said.
The claim emerged last month in a report by a panel of health experts who had been asked to check on the astronaut corps’ health and screening policies in the aftermath of the arrest of a former astronaut, Lisa Nowak, accused of stalking a love rival.
Police say Nowak drove from Houston to Orlando, Florida, in diapers to confront a woman who was dating a fellow astronaut. Nowak has been charged with attempted kidnapping.
The panel said it was told of at least two occasions in which NASA astronauts were cleared to fly despite indications they were drunk, one involving a space shuttle flight that ended up being postponed for other reasons and the other a Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
The panel did not attempt to confirm the allegations but brought them to NASA’s attention. NASA managers vowed to reinforce a 12-hour ban on drinking alcohol before launch and started the investigation.
Speaking at a news conference at Kennedy Space Center in Florida after the space shuttle Endeavour blasted into orbit on Wednesday, Griffin said he would be “extraordinarily surprised” if there was anything to the accusations.
He noted that shuttle crews are under intense supervision on launch day and are not alone from the moment they wake up.
“I mean they would have to really want to drink and hide it really well because from the time they woke up they were with other people,” he said, using Endeavour’s crew as an example.
In an earlier interview with Reuters, the NASA boss said that despite his doubts over the legitimacy of the allegations, it was his responsibility to check them out.
“Many barrels have a bad apple,” he said. “If there is truth underlying these allegations then I want to know it.”
Additional reporting by Irene Klotz